Going Through the Details of a Traditional Japanese Home

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Minka House from Japan, Kew Gardens - geograph.org.uk - 215044A Japanese traditional house is called minka (民家). You can still see these traditional homes in the present day but most of them have adapted bits and pieces of Western influences. The Japanese build their homes according to these important elements: minimalism, serenity and embodiment of nature to the home. To help you paint an image of what a traditional Japanese house looks like, let us continue to read the details below.

Genkan-M9774As you enter a Japanese home, the first thing you are going to see is the genkan. This is the place where you remove your shoes before entering the house. After removing your shoes, you must place it in the getabako, a cabinet for storing footwear which can also be found in the genkan. The genkan is specifically lower than the rest of the house. Beyond the genkan and usually a further step away is the agarikamachi. The distance that separates them acts as a detachment from outdoors and the inner house. From here, shoes are not allowed and indoor slippers should be worn.

Japanese & Western-style Room (21286787533)A traditional Japanese house has a unique style.  Their floors are covered with tatami mats.  Tatami mats are mats made from woven rice straw.  The Japanese love these tatami mats as they are very comfortable to sit upon and cool during the summer season.  As a matter of fact, tatami takes in nitrogen dioxide which aids in filtering the air inside the house.  In a traditional Japanese house, almost all rooms are covered with tatami mats.  However, in a modernized Japanese house, they retain only a single room with tatami mats.

Japanese living by Emile Bremmer is licensed under CC BY 2.0The living room of a Japanese traditional house is called ima.  This is the place where all the family members gather together for a cup of tea, watch TV or simply enjoy each other’s family.  This is also the place where they entertain visitors.  In the Showa period, this room is referred to as chanoma.  During the period, people would eat their meals in the room, in a seiza position (kneeling with one leg folded under the thighs).  During the winter, the family can enjoy spending their time in the room with their kotatsu, a lowered table with a wide blanket with a built-in heater.

150425 Ishitani Residence Chizu Tottori pref Japan31nThe rooms in a traditional Japanese house are divided by thick, semi-transparent paper on wooden frame partitions called shōji. These partitions prevent anyone to see through the other rooms while allowing natural light to seep in. The paper that shōji are made of can absorb humidity and support air flow into the room.

北投溫泉浴場個人浴池Another characteristic of a Japanese traditional house is the ofuro which means bath.  In a typical Japanese home, the bath and the toilet are separate.  The bathroom contains the shower and the bathtub while an adjacent room serves as the room where they get dressed and undressed.  Most Japanese bathe during the evening.  The entire family uses the same water therefore, all the family members must clean and rinse their body properly before entering the tub.  To save gas and water, the tub water is never washed out until all the family members have bathed.

仁和寺 宸殿A forgotten area of a traditional Japanese house that you rarely witness nowadays is the engawa. The engawa is used similarly like the veranda of Western houses. This area is made of wooden floors and usually runs along the sides of the home. This area is also used by the family members to relax while they drink their favorite drinks or eat their favorite foods. The engawa is a special place in the house where the family can view the spectacular beauty of nature. For some, this place is the perfect spot to enjoy reading books or gaze at the moonlit sky during night time.

Futons in a Ryokan - 2An important place in the house is the bedroom where the family members sleep. In traditional Japanese houses, the family sleeps in a shikibuton – a mattress that you lay on the floor. The cooling effect of the tatami mats and the soft mattress contributes to the popularity of these conventional beds. In fact, a study shows that more than half of the Japanese prefer to sleep in the shikibuton than in beds. During the day, the mattresses are kept inside oshi-ire, a concealed cabinet for storing futons. When the weather is sunny, most people hang the mattresses outside to absorb the heat brought by the sun.

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